Tag Archives: animation

The Empire of Corpses

The Empire of Corpses 1
The Empire of Corpses

Format: Dual Format (Bluy-ray + DVD)

Release date: 26 September 2016

Distributor: Anime Ltd

Director: Ryôtarô Makihara

Writers: Koji Yamamoto, Midori Goto, Hiroshi Seko

Based on the novel by: Project Itoh, Tô Enjo

Original Title: Shisha no teikoku

Japan 2015

120 mins

Kim Newman rummages through the straight-to-DVD treasure trunk

Unusual touches and a profusion of ideas are let down by hasty direction and animé clichés in this steampunk revisiting of Frankenstein.

In a parallel 19th century, society has been reshaped by the scientific innovations of Victor Frankenstein and Charles Babbage. A vast underclass of living corpses function as soldiers, servants or suicide bombers – revived by Frankensteinian injections and programmed with punch-card software generated by Babbage’s giant proto-computers. In 1878, boyish medical student John Watson reanimates a close (perhaps, very close) friend as a sad-eyed scribbler he names Friday (though his official designation is Noble Savage 007). Blackmailed by one-eyed spymaster Walsingham, who uses the code-name M, Watson and Friday are packed off on a quest to get the lost notes of Victor Frankenstein. These are being used by renegade Russian scientist Alexei Karamazov, who is holed up in an Afghan stronghold. Alexei wants to refine the process to match Frankenstein’s original, unrepeated experiment in creating an articulate monster with a soul (or, at least, intelligence). Also involved in a chase that dashes about the world – including spells in Tokyo and San Francisco – before looping back to London are macho British adventurer Frederick Burnaby (a real historical character), bosomy American mystery woman Hadaly Lilith (an Edison-made automaton, working for ex-President Grant), the USS Nautilus (a nod to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as much as Jules Verne), and Frankenstein’s white-bearded original monster (‘the One’).

This steampunk animé is based on a novel by Project Itoh, which seems to borrow an approach from my own Anno Dracula. It takes a different Gothic text as source but similarly extrapolates a world dominated by fall-out from a famous monster’s story and mixes in real people and characters from other Victorian fiction. The book was published posthumously (completed by Tô Enjo), which might explain why the film’s plot clanks a little as it waffles about weighty themes (what is a soul?) while speeding through incidents (several wars and mini-apocalypses), which might have benefited from a more leisurely approach. Too often the main characters are on the sidelines of mass action, watching or taking notes while battles are fought or maddened zombies run riot (seemingly turning vampire by the amount of neck-biting on view). There are several unusual elements, like the understated homoerotic bond between Watson (who doesn’t hook up with his usual partner until an after-the-credits tag) and his corpse near-doppelganger Friday, but the picture slips into an animé-manga rut as it all boils down to a world-changing catastrophic event masterminded by a cackling villain and thwarted by straight-up good guys. A confusion of characters – including a Karloff-look flat-headed brute – clash with each other at the Tower of London as a Big Magic Effect appears in the skies above.

The animation is variable, with rich detail and backgrounds but some shaky character stuff (Hadaly’s ridiculous breasts are rather disturbing).

Kim Newman

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The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki’s very last film, a charming celebration of aeronautical designer Jiro Horikoshi’s big dreams and inventiveness, is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Studiocanal. The Wind Rises is also available as part of The Hayao Miyazaki Collection, released on 8 December 2014 by Studiocanal. This special Blu-ray box set brings together all 11 of his directed feature films and includes a bonus disc with the full 90 minute press conference in which Miyazaki announced his retirement, and a specially commissioned booklet with analysis, essays and commentary as well as contributions from Miyazaki himself.

This comic review reads from bottom to top. You can also read our Venice Film Festival review.

The Wind Rises
Comic Strip Review by Clare Wood
For more information on Clare Wood, go to unclearclare.tumblr.com.

A Jester’s Tale

A Jesters Tale
A Jester’s Tale

Format: DVD

Release date: 15 September 2014

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Karel Zeman

Writers: Pavel Jurácek, Radovan Krátký, Karel Zeman

Cast: Petr Kostka, Emília Vášáryová, Miroslav Holub

Original title: Bláznova kronika

Czechoslovakia 1964

81 mins

A Jester’s Tale (1964) is a delightful and entertaining period piece that combines live action and animated engravings in an original and ingenious way. A farmer named Petr is happily ploughing his field when a group of soldiers press gang him into joining the king’s army. Petr’s independent and ironic attitude makes him completely unsuited to army life. As the army marches into battle in the Thirty Years’ War, Petr stumbles over rocks and is distracted by forget-me-nots.

In a characteristically humorous turn of events, our hero manages to break his rifle stand, and is forced to shoot from ground level, which serendipitously saves him and an ageing fellow soldier from the firing line. Things begin to look up as the pair find themselves the only survivors of the battle, gaily make off with a carriage full of loot, and even pick up a pretty peasant along the way. But when the three friends are surrounded by enemy soldiers once more, they decide to impersonate the king, his steward and his jester…

Those who are already connoisseurs of the sly humour and sheer inventiveness of Czechoslovak New Wave cinema will not be disappointed with this 1964 instalment, directed by Karel Zeman. The political liberalisation that took place in 1960s Czechoslovakia meant that filmmakers were blessed with an enviable cross between relative artistic freedom and central planning’s guaranteed funding and facilities. Directors of the time were particularly keen to make films about everyday life, previously a tricky subject: Socialist Realism prescribed films that glorified a heroic past or looked forward to an ideal future when Communism’s contemporary difficulties would be ironed out.

Films by documentary-influenced directors like Miloš Forman and Ivan Passer turned their lens on a contemporary setting, but even historical films like A Jester’s Tale had something to say about everyday life. Petr is a perfect example of an individualist who does everything he can to avoid the honourable roles that society attempts to impose on him, because he sees the hollow reality behind the hype.

Zeman makes a mockery of war by representing it through animation. There is something innately irreverent about taking static book illustrations and bringing them to life, and all the more when animation allows unlikely events, like the rank and file soldiers getting their heads blown off in unison. It will remind many viewers of the Monty Python animations by Terry Gilliam, who cites Zeman as one of his influences, along with Polish animator Walerian Borowczyk. Zeman stands out for his ability to combine live action and animation in the same frame, to the magical point where it’s hard to tell where the drawings end and reality begins.

In his engaging liner notes, Ian Haydn Smith tantalises us with descriptions of Zeman’s early shorts, including a popular series of satirical puppet films and Inspiration, a lyrical animation of glass. At just 81 minutes’ running time, A Jester’s Tale leaves some spare space on a DVD, so any of these shorts would have been a welcome addition to this release.

The Second Run DVD is presented in a new anamorphic digital transfer and features a new essay on the film by writer and book editor Ian Haydn Smith.

Alison Frank

The Congress

The Congress
The Congress

Format: Cinema

Release date: 15 August 2014

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Ari Folman

Writer: Ari Folman

Based on the novel: The Futurological Congress by Stanislav Lem

Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Paul Giamatti, Danny Huston

Israel, Germany, Poland, France 2013

120 mins

Ari Folman’s follow up to Waltz with Bashir (2008) is an idiosyncratic masterpiece, highly ambitious in its scale and complexity, and fuelled with dazzling animated beauty. In a daringly intimate performance, Robin Wright plays herself, an acclaimed actress just past her prime with a market value diminished to zero, her previous stardom being long buried in Hollywood history. When her agent, Al (Harvey Keitel), tells her she’s being given one last chance by her studio, Miramount, Robin reluctantly agrees to a meeting, unknowing what this final offer entails. The plan is to motion-capture Wright, to copy her body, feelings, memories, and gestures in order to create a digital alter ego that can easily be adjusted to fit into any blockbuster, TV show or commercial as required by the studio. As part of the deal that promises her both a generous pay-off and the guarantee of eternal youth on screen, the real Robin Wright must retire with no claim as to how her virtual self is being used in the future. At first, she refuses, but family constraints force her to reconsider.

The Congress is released in the UK on DVD + Blu-ray on 8 December 2014 by Studiocanal.

So far, The Congress might appear as a vicious, darkly cynical take on the movie industry in the digital age and how Hollywood treats its ageing goddesses. What then happens, however, about 50 minutes into the film, is best seen first-hand. Loosely inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s The Futurological Congress, and again combining animation and live action to puzzling effect, Folman jumps forward 20 years to find the real Wright aged and out of business, while her alter ego has become one of the biggest action heroines on screen as ‘Rebel Robot Robin’. Invited to Miramount’s Futurological Congress, the actress must pass into a strange animated zone, which opens an entirely new, imaginary universe of its own, crowded with celebrity doubles who escape their daily misery through drug-induced hallucinations; it’s a place that visually blends the style of 1930s Betty Boop cartoons and the trippy aesthetic of Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World. At the same time, Folman slows down the action to plunge into something darker, deeper, more inventive and more existential than merely teasing the Hollywood system to the core. Soused in gorgeous imagery and surreal, intoxicated melancholy, the second half of The Congress meanders gracefully between philosophical, religious and ideological reflections on the human condition, yet despite minor flaws, never loses sight of its original premise. The film is a fiercely original, bold and riveting meditation on the future of the silver screen and the stars that make it shine.

This review was first published as part of our 2013 Cannes coverage.

Pamela Jahn

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Les Astronautes

As part of our exploration of ground-breaking Polish director Walerian Borowczyk, our comic strip review looks at the wonderful animation short Les Astronautes, made by Borowczyk in 1959 in collaboration with Chris Marker.

As part of Kinoteka, ‘Walerian Borowczyk: The Listening Eye’, an exhibition of preliminary studies for his animated shorts Les Jeux des Anges (1964), Le dictionnaire de Joachim (1965) and The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal (1967) as well as his unique wooden sound sculptures is on at the ICA’s Fox Reading Room from 20 May – 6 July 2014.

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection is released by Arrow Academy on 8 September 2014. This unique limited edition box set (Dual Format DVD + Blu-ray) includes the short films, The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, Goto, l’île d’amour, Blanche, The Beast and Immoral Tales.

Les Astronautes
Comic Strip Review by Lord Hurk
More information on Lord Hurk can be found at www.lordhurk.com.

Belladonna of Sadness

Belladonna 1
Belladonna of Sadness

Format: Cinema

Screening as part of the East End Film Festival

Screening Date: 23 June 2014

Venue: Red Gallery

Director: Eiichi Yamamoto

Writers: Yoshiyuki Fukuda, Eiichi Yamamoto

Based on the novel La sorcière by: Jules Michelet

Original title: Kanashimi no Belladonna

Japan 1973

93 mins

As a critic with an interest in the history of Japanese animation and manga, it is refreshing once in a while to come across a film that is like nothing you’ve seen before. While some animé films save money by using limited animation here and there, before Belladonna of Sadness I’d never seen a movie where around 40% of the running time consists of the camera panning across still drawings and paintings. By using this technique so extensively in-between the more traditionally animated sections, it avoids appearing like a cost-saving exercise (which is not to say it wasn’t, as the film actually bankrupted an animation studio) and creates a very different kind of storytelling that seems to hark back to older forms of Japanese entertainment such as Kamishibai or Emaki-mono. Kamishibai storytellers would travel from town to town entertaining children with a box that had an opening at the front, in and out of which different painted scenes could be moved, like a 2D version of paper theatre, with a soundtrack performed by the storyteller. Revived in 1920s Japan during the global economic depression, Kamishibai had its roots in an older form of pictorial narrative, that of Emaki-mono scrolls, which display a story to the viewer as they roll the unfolding image from one end of the scroll to the other.

The EEFF screening will be accompanied by a live score from Charlie Boyer and The Voyeurs.

By containing filmed versions of both Kamishibai and Emaki-mono and mixing the style of older visual narratives with more modern animation (which in this case lifts imagery from 1970s fashion magazines and even a brief homage to The Beatles’ 1968 Yellow Submarine), Belladonna of Sadness almost feels like a tour of Japanese visual storytelling culture. All of this may sound charming – and indeed it often is – but the film is certainly not suitable for children, as the starting point for the screenplay was a 19th-century book called Satanism and Witchcraft (La sorcière) by Jules Michelet, and the film contains many scenes of rape committed against the central character. Although these scenes are thankfully tamer than hentai animè from a decade later, such as the risible Urotsukidôji: Legend of the Overfiend (1989), or even live action cinema at the time – for example Lady Snowblood released the same year – the imagery of a woman split apart by a river of blood that splinters into bats is still the stuff of nightmares.

Belladonna 2

The plot is a somewhat misogynist tale of a poor couple who try to raise the tithe needed to get married on their local Baron’s estate. When he demands 10 times the amount, the fiancé has no choice but to let his bride spend a night with the Baron instead. Deflowered and full of shame, the next day Jeanne welcomes a penis-shaped demon into her bedroom (and body) so she can be empowered with the forces of evil to fight the corrupt regime they live in. The fantastical and erotic elements of the film are sometimes an uneasy mix, and perhaps only the use of scrolling images to replace much of the animation prevents the film from being a gruelling experience, as the focus of the plot is often on the repeated abuse of the female protagonist.

The third in a trilogy of animated ‘pink’ films made under the supervision of Osamu Tezuka, the most revered creator of Japanese manga, Belladonna of Sadness followed two light-hearted erotic fantasies by the same director, which contained animation that was recognisably by Tezuka himself – One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (1969) and Cleopatra (1970). However, this film swaps the child-friendly artwork of Astro Boy (1964) and Kimba the White Lion (1966) for a striking style influenced by fin-de-siècle European artists such as Aubrey Beardsley and Gustav Klimt. The soundtrack is also exemplary, and like the globetrotting visual aesthetics, mixes sleazy Euro-pop – of the kind that might grace a 1960s film by Roger Vadim – with Japanese jazz. Only the subject matter leaves a bad taste in the mouth, which the filmmakers clumsily try to belatedly justify with a coda comparing the events of the movie with the sacrifices made by women who died during the French Revolution. But the many unique elements that make the film stand out from its peers, including the art on screen, combined with the Emaki-mono presentation, make Belladonna of Sadness a must-see for fans of Japanese animation.

Alex Fitch

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Who Is Walerian Borowczyk?

As part of our exploration of ground-breaking Polish director Walerian Borowczyk, we look at his career as a board game in our comic strip review.

As part of Kinoteka, ‘Walerian Borowczyk: The Listening Eye’, an exhibition of preliminary studies for his animated shorts Les Jeux des Anges (1964), Le dictionnaire de Joachim (1965) and The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal (1967) as well as his unique wooden sound sculptures is on at the ICA’s Fox Reading Room from 20 May – 6 July 2014.

Two programmes of Borowczyk’s short films will screen at the ICA on 24 and 25 May 2014.

The Walerian Borowczyk retrospective runs at BFI Southbank until the end of May 2014.

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection is released by Arrow Academy on 8 September 2014. This unique limited edition box set (Dual Format DVD + Blu-ray) includes the short films, The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, Goto, l’île d’amour, Blanche, The Beast and Immoral Tales – it does not contain The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne.

Comic Strip Review by Tony Hitchman

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

The Adventures of Prince Achmed
The Adventures of Prince Achmed

Format: Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD)

Release date: 19 August 2013

Distributor: BFI

Director: Lotte Reiniger

Germany 1926

67 mins

The characters in this little comedy have no real existence. They have been designed and cut out of a sheet of black paper and are made to move on backgrounds lit from below and photographed from above. This brief explanation is not offered as an apology for their lack of life but to make you marvel that they have so much.
– Intertitle from Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle (1928)

The German filmmaker Lotte Reiniger may have used simple techniques – manually crafting figures from card using a small pair of hand scissors – but the films compiled on a new British Film Institute DVD commemorating her work are highly sophisticated. The aforementioned preface to her three-part telling of Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle is a necessary reminder that the audience is in fact watching nothing more than inanimate sheets of paper; yet the physical characterisations, especially evident in the Dr. Dolittle shorts, are irresistibly enchanting. Each animal in the doctor’s menagerie has its own defined personality. When Dr. Dolittle’s boat runs into trouble en route to Africa, the jolly, chattering duck is unfazed as he retrieves the doctor’s top hat from the ocean waves, while the chubby, hesitant pig is too scared to jump ship and seeks a piggyback ride to shore. The monkeys that Dr. Dolittle’s band encounter on arriving at their destination are equally characterful. They appear as complex and individual as if Reiniger had employed the very best live-action character actors or placed her camera in a cage at the zoo. In fact, Reiniger was at such pains to get each movement right that she spent hours at the Tiergarten in Berlin, physically imitating the animals’ movements to ensure that the swing of an arm or a flap of a wing rang true.

After painstaking research, the paper cut-outs were manoeuvred by sheets of lead, and it is this manual manipulation that lends the animations their charm and almost truer-than-life vitality. While each sequence is carefully constructed frame-by-frame, there is a hint of unpredictability in the gesture of a silhouette’s hand or the nod of its head, which mirrors the irregularity of life. The potential for error stands in contrast to today’s computer-generated smoothness and, in some respects, viewing Reiniger’s animation after years of steady 3-D releases, the figures appear to possess even more of that marvellous ‘life’ which made Reiniger so proud.

As difficult as it might be to remember that these on-screen figures are mere sheets of paper, it is also hard to appreciate that the DVD’s central masterpiece, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), is the oldest surviving animated feature film. In some ways, it is easy to recognise this work as an early example of filmmaking. There is the evident influence of mechanical magic lantern slides (the camera is still as silhouettes are manually moved across brightly-lit glass plates), and hints of vaudeville theatre, with the sequences of acrobatic physical comedy, as well as the division of the narrative into separate acts. Yet, in other ways, it is extraordinary that the first feature-length animation should display such technical skill and advanced visual storytelling. Unusually for a silent film, Reiniger worked with the film’s composer Wolfgang Zeller from the beginning, and turned the film’s score on rollers while animating her puppets to ensure that the sound and action was perfectly in sync. This emphasis on rhythm demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the artistic possibilities of abstract filmmaking, while there is an inventiveness with painted backdrops that foreshadows the work of Len Lye and Norman McLaren. Indeed, the film was popular in European avant-garde circles.

Although she was an early pioneer in the medium, Reiniger was fully alive to the potential of animation to portray the fantastical and unreal. The recurring motif of flight (the flight of the Sorcerer’s magical horse, the flight of Peri Banu’s winged cloak and the flight of the avenging demons) displays this preference for make-believe and imagination in Reiniger’s work as she weaves together different magical stories from One Thousand and One Nights to create a single coherent narrative. Reiniger was quite clearly a natural storyteller, as evidenced by her 1972 essay printed in the accompanying DVD notes. She does not focus on her technical abilities or role as director, but rather places Prince Achmed as the central hero in the filmmaking process (‘one day he was thrown out of his comfortable existence by a film company which wanted to employ him… for an animated film’). In fact, Reiniger is so skilful at telling complex stories with simple silhouettes and sparse intertitles that I found myself preferring the version of The Adventures of Prince Achmed without the newly recorded English-translation narration. Without the spoken word, the beautiful images can sing even louder.

Fairy tales, Biblical parables and folk tales all feature in Reiniger’s films, and her animations display a preference for strongly moral narratives where the ‘good’ are honoured for their behaviour. While this straightforward morality might seem a little old-fashioned to modern audiences – especially combined with female characters who wait to be saved by dashing heroes and a certain preoccupation with the exotic ‘other’ – Reiniger’s films do not feel like relics from a distant past. The existence of dark forces cleverly counterbalances any sentimental tendencies. In The Star of Bethlehem (1956), Reiniger even ensures that the story of the nativity has a strong sinister aspect with the inclusion of devils rushing to obstruct the Magi in the desert; it was so strong, in fact, that censors cut the sequence when the film was aired on American television, in case it frightened the film’s young audience. Reiniger was also adept at puncturing serious action with moments of well-placed humour. In The Flying Coffer (1921), the tragic tale of the Chinese princess imprisoned in the pagoda is subverted by a moment of slapstick comedy as her two suitors collide with each other while trying to scale the tower. In an early cosmetics commercial, The Secret of the Marquise (1922), Reiniger undermines the beauty of her heroines by revealing the artifice behind appearances. We see a fashionable 18th-century French woman seated at her toilette as her suitor asks, ‘Graceful, beautiful woman, tell me which god gave you such allure?’ The answer brings the audience to earth with a bump: ‘Nivea Soap and Nivea Cream.’

Reiniger may reveal deception in physical beauty in The Secret of the Marquise, but there is no denying the delicate exquisiteness of her own animations. Even with the knowledge that the figures are made from simple pieces of cards and tricks of light, there is a magical splendour to her animations. When Dr. Dolittle premiered at the Alhambra in Berlin, a sequence where the doctor’s ship travels over moonlit water caused spontaneous applause, and I believe the impact of these stunning visuals has not diminished in the slightest since that initial screening. Any fan of film and animation should make sure that they watch these films, not only as they are important works in the history of cinema, but because they provide a rare, luminous beauty, which will transport you right up into the sky with the Sorcerer’s magic horse.

Eleanor McKeown

Watch Lotte Reiniger’s The Secret of the Marquise commercial:

Watch a clip from The Adventures of Prince Achmed:

The ABCs of Death

ABC of death
The ABCs of Death

Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 April 2013

Distributor: Monster Pictures

Directors: Various, including Adrián García Bogliano, Marcel Sarmiento, Angela Bettis, Noburo Iguchi, Jorge Michel Grau, Yûdai Yamaguchi, Anders Morgenthaler, Timo Tjahjanto, Ti West, Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet, Srdjan Spasojevic, Jake West, Lee Hardcastle, Ben Wheatley, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura

USA/New Zealand 2012

123 mins

A high-concept portmanteau piece for which 26 modern horror directors were assigned with a letter of the alphabet and tasked with creating a short film. The resulting 123 minutes, from A for Apocalypse to Z for Zetsumetzu is, as you might expect, a mixed bag, with low-key, lo-fi naturalism next to cartoon expressionism, art house butting up against gross animation.

The batting average for the shorts is pretty high overall, with few outright duds. The problem is that most of the contributors come from a similar age, sex and mindset, resulting in a cumulative blokey, snarky chat-room feel as the film progresses – a battle to be more transgressive, freaky and cool, with surprisingly few films aiming to actually scare you. The viewer starts to feel somewhat numb, clocking up where they are in the alphabet and wondering how much more T & A, toilets, reflex post-modernism, bugs and Cronenbergian ickiness they can take.

For the record, Timo Tjahjanto wins the sickness race with Libido; Ben Wheatley delivers a sharp, subjective camera shock with Unearthed; Hydro-Electric Diffusion is agreeably bonkers; Quack and WTF are pretty funny, in a knowing, American smartarse way; Youngbuck winningly feels like a twisted loveletter to the 80’s high school movie and Fart and Zetsumetsu (both Japanese) seem determined to throw as much weirdness as possible at the screen in the hope that some of it might mean something. For my money, the real standouts were Dogfight by Marcel Samiento, a jagged little tale with a political edge that is scored, edited and shot to perfection, and Forzani/Cattet’s Orgasm, which is a beautiful, erotic semi-abstract nightmare unlike anything else around it. But hell, dive in, there’s something to upset everyone.

Mark Stafford

The King of Pigs

The King of Pigs

Format: Cinema

Release date: 25 January 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Terracotta Distribution

Director: Yeon Sang-ho

Writer: Yeon Sang-ho

Original title: Dwae-ji-ui wang

South Korea 2011

97 mins

South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho’s The King of Pigs is a harsh, bleak animated feature that looks at the terrible fate of three childhood friends who were bullied at school. The pervasive violence of the highly hierarchical South Korean society has been tackled in a number of films, one of the most notable being Yang Ik-joon’s gut-wrenching Breathless (2008), which The King of Pigs recalls to a certain extent in its unrelenting darkness and its atmosphere of absolute despair (interesting to note that director-actor Yang Ik-joon voices the character of Jong-suk in the film).

The King of Pigs opens as the bespectacled failed businessman Kyung-min, having apparently just strangled his wife in their high-rise city apartment, gets a phone call from a detective who has tracked down his childhood friend Jong-suk. A wife-beating failed writer, Jong-suk agrees to meet Kyung-min after 15 years in which they have had no contact. Their conversation in a restaurant leads to a number of flashbacks to their school years and the bullying they endured at the hands of older, richer boys. The animal metaphor of the title is used to describe the vicious hierarchical organisation of the school, and by extension, of Korean society: the ‘dogs’ are the boys from well-off families who rule the school and persecute the ‘pigs’, who come from poorer or less respectable backgrounds.

But this seemingly unchangeable brutal order is challenged when a boy called Chul comes to the defence of Kyung-min. Chul is a true outsider and refuses to be bullied into submission. In one chilling scene, he tells the boys, ‘you need to be a monster if you don’t want to keep living like a loser’. When he beats up an older boy, he becomes ‘the king of pigs’. Soon, he has a plan to make sure the ‘dogs’ can never have happy memories of their school days. But as Chul realises the complexities of the adult world he does some growing up, even though Kyung-min and Jong-suk still desperately need him to remain a ‘monster’ and recklessly stand up to the bullies.

The animal metaphor is somewhat laboured and heavy-handed in places and this is not helped by the terrible quality of the subtitles. The low budget is apparent in the lack of sophistication of the animation, which is quite stilted and not very detailed. But this is compensated for by a very expressive colour scheme, from the oppressive dark blues and muted tones that dominate the film to the rare luminous pink skies that punctuate the gloom. Also notable are a number of hallucinatory sequences: boys with dogs’ heads, a murdered ghost cat spitting out sardonic comments, a glue-induced nightmarish vision.

The King of Pigs is an uncompromising, hopeless depiction of a society corrupted by the idea of success as money and the brutal upholding of the hierarchical order it creates. Despite its flaws, it is an intense, riveting, affecting drama that delivers a truly shocking conclusion.

Virginie Sélavy

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